Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chocolate Eclair Dessert

My family came down from Michigan to visit us over the weekend.  We spent the time engaging in numerous nerf gun battles (okay, so that was just the guys), playing several rounds of Funglish, watching scary and funny YouTube videos, and eating food.  Lots of food.  As in, there were four guys between the ages of 17 and 27, mountains of food.  My mom, wisely foreseeing my inability to even comprehend the piranha-like eating abilities of my three brothers, brought along lots of snacks, meat, cereal, and fruit.  She left with fruit.  I think.

Anyway, along with her treasure-trove of goodies, my mom brought ingredients to make a two-weeks-early birthday dessert for me.  It wasn't cake.  It was ten times better.  And we ate the. whole. thing.

Chocolate Eclair Dessert
Time:  15 minutes, plus 2-3 hours for chilling (or overnight)
Serves 10-12 (or 7, if you have ravenous brothers like me)

1 large pkg. (5.1 oz.) instant vanilla pudding
3 cups cold milk
8 oz. frozen whipped topping
1 box graham crackers
1 can (16 oz.) chocolate frosting

Whisk together pudding and milk, according to package directions.  Gently stir in whipped topping.  Set aside.

In a 9x13 cake pan, place a single layer of graham crackers.  Spread half of pudding mixture over crackers.  Top with a second layer of crackers, followed by the remaining pudding.  Top with a final layer of graham crackers spread with chocolate frosting (frost the crackers first, then gently place over surface of pudding).

Cover and refrigerate at least 2-3 hours or overnight.  (The graham crackers will gradually soften and absorb some of the pudding.  If you like crisper crackers, you can serve after an hour or so--the dessert will be more difficult to cut, however.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Indian Butter Chicken

I don't know that much about Indian food, and I know even less about Indian cooking.  Once I tried to make naan, and it came out hard as a rock.  (Incidentally, the recipe called for something like 1/4 cup of yeast.  It didn't help the bread rise at all, as far as I could tell.)  One recipe that turns out every time for me, though, is this one for Indian butter chicken.  I have no idea how authentic it is; I can't even remember where I got the recipe, although I've doctored it up a bit myself.  It uses fairly basic ingredients and isn't too time-consuming, although I wouldn't recommend it for busy week nights.  I think it tastes best over rice, with some naan (store-bought, in my case) on the side.  (I found some naan at the Asian Market on the corner of Calhoun and Pontiac, $2.50 for 6 big pieces.  It was, ironically, made in Canada.)

The recipe calls for fresh chicken breast, but you could probably use pre-cooked chicken, if you add it at the very end with the butter.  I've never actually tried it that way, though.  This time I used dark thigh meat, which just wasn't as good as the white meat--it was almost too rich.  As far as the other ingredients, fresh ginger keeps for a long time if you freeze it; I bought mine for $2 a pound at one of the Asian markets.  Garam masala is a blend of various spices used frequently in Indian cooking.  There are lots of recipes online if you want to make your own garam masala, but since most of them call for a lot of unusual spices, I usually just buy it pre-made.  McCormick's Gourmet Collection is probably the best deal you can find at Meijer, but next time I'm going to try one of the Asian stores.

Indian Butter Chicken
Serves 5-6
Time:  50-60 minutes

1 onion, chopped
2 T. grated or minced fresh ginger
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 T. vegetable oil
3 tsp. garam masala
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste, minus 2 T. (freeze the extra for those annoying recipes that only call for 1 or 2 T.)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half (whole milk works too)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces (1/2" or smaller)
1/2 tsp. coarse-ground black pepper
1/4 cup butter
hot cooked rice and/or naan
lime wedges (optional)

In a large, deep pot, combine onion, ginger, jalapeno, and oil.  Stir often over high heat until onion is browned (3-5 minutes).  Remove from heat; stir in garam masala.

Scrape mixture into blender; add paste and broth.  Blend until smooth.  (Or add paste and broth to aromatics in pot and use a stick/immersion blender to combine.)  Return mixture to pot, add cream, and bring to a gentle boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until reduced to 3 cups (5-7 minutes).

Mix chicken with pepper and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Melt 1 T. butter over high heat in a separate pan; add chicken and cook until it is no longer pink on the surface.  Add chicken to sauce and simmer over medium heat, stirring often, until chicken is cooked through (3-4 minutes).  Cut remaining 3 T. butter into chunks and stir into sauce until melted.

Serve over rice and/or with naan.  Squeeze with lime juice, if desired.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

Fat Tuesday is coming up next week, and while I don't usually do much to celebrate (other than pigging out on more pączki than I care to reveal), I can't think of a better time to post a recipe for a mouthwatering Louisiana favorite--gumbo.

I tried this recipe for the first time tonight, and I'm not going to lie--it took me two hours, from chopping vegetables to cooking the roux to simmering the whole vat of tastiness.  It was completely worth every minute.  I don't know that much about Creole or Cajun cooking, but I do know the more time spent on a roux, the better.  (Some people will cook it for an hour or more, but I'm just not that ambitious.)  I did decide to cook it a little longer than the recipe specified, resulting in a beautiful dark roux and a nice, deep flavor.

Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list.  After tasting the finished product, I decided it needed some extra flavor, so I added a dash of several ingredients that are common in Cajun spice blends.  You could just add a tablespoon of Cajun spice instead.  The original recipe called for andouille sausage, but I substituted a package of smoked pork sausage from the co-op.  If you're going for authenticity, use the andouille, or even chorizo, but I thought the smoked sausage worked fine.  I found the okra on clearance at Meijer.  Try to use fresh okra if you can.  It's included as a thickening agent, so don't leave it out unless you hate okra (in which case you shouldn't be making gumbo in the first place).  For tips on finding a decent deal on shrimp, see my scampi post.  The remaining ingredients (including the Cajun "holy trinity" of onion, bell pepper, and celery) are all regularly available at the co-op.

You'll want to prepare all your ingredients in advance, so you can add them quickly as needed.  Most of the time is actively spent cooking, so call up a friend or turn on some music once you get the roux going.  (I called my dad while he was working on some equally labor-intensive homemade pizza--he probably got sick of hearing about how good my gumbo was smelling.)

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo (based on this recipe)
Time:  1 1/2 to 2 hours
Serves 4

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup onion, minced (about 1 small)
1/2 cup green bell pepper, minced (about 1 small)
1/2 cup celery, minced (about 2 stalks)
4 cups (1 quart) chicken broth or stock
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound andouille sausage or chorizo (or substitute 1 pkg. smoked pork sausage), cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1/2 pound fresh okra, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
dash each of oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, and paprika
3 cups cooked white rice
Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot sauce, optional

In large stock pot over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk in flour.  Cook, stirring frequently with wire whisk (don't use a spoon), until mixture becomes dark brown and has intensely nutty aroma, about 25-30 minutes.  (Take your time on this.  Don't try to brown the roux too quickly or it will burn.  You'll need to whisk the roux almost continuously, especially as it darkens, so this is where you turn on your House reruns.)

Stir in onion, pepper, and celery and cook, whisking frequently, until vegetables soften, about 2 minutes.  Gradually whisk in broth.  Raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently (you can switch to a spoon), until mixture has thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Add bay leaves, sausage, and okra and simmer, uncovered, until okra is tender, about 15 minutes.  Add shrimp, salt, cayenne, black pepper, and herbs; simmer until shrimp is just cooked through, 4-5 minutes.

Serve gumbo over rice (about 1/2-1/3 cup per person) in large bowls.  Add hot sauce to taste, if desired.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Restaurant-Style Salsa

About a month ago, I finally broke down and joined Pinterest.  I was afraid it would cause me to waste even more time online than I did already.  I needn't have worried.  I am quite capable of wasting time on Pinterest on my own.

And now, this is me.

The good news is that I've been discovering some pretty tasty looking recipes.  Pinterest makes it easy to keep track of things that I "might want to make someday," so I don't have to e-mail the links to myself or print them out before deeming them worthy of precious printer ink and paper.  The bad news is that now I have about 25 desserts to try, and not nearly enough marshmallow creme and Karo syrup in the pantry.  *sigh*

While I still haven't given up on making my own oatmeal cream pies, this easy restaurant-style salsa is a pretty tasty Pinterest find that won't completely rot out all your teeth.  Unlike my black bean salsa, this salsa is very smooth, just like the stuff they serve with chips at a lot of Mexican restaurants.  Because I don't have a big food processor and I hate cleaning my blender, I decided to puree all the ingredients in batches with my little food processor.  It worked okay, but took me a little longer.

You can get almost all of the ingredients at the co-op, and the others are very inexpensive.  Cilantro is about $.50 at Kroger and Meijer, and you can run the leftovers through a food processor and freeze in 1 Tb. amounts for making guacamole later.  Jalapenos are also inexpensive (I still had some frozen from last summer).  If you don't have Rotel (or at least diced tomatoes with chilies), you can substitute another can of regular diced tomatoes, plus a small can of diced green chilies.

Restaurant-Style Salsa (based on this recipe)
Time:  10 minutes

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (10 oz.) can Rotel (diced tomatoes with chilies), undrained
1/2 large cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves (wash before stripping leaves from stems)
juice of 1 lime

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse to combine for 30 seconds or so until all the ingredients are very finely chopped and salsa is desired consistency.  (See note above if using a small food processor.)  Serve with tortilla chips.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shrimp Scampi

While I'm all about shopping frugally, making the most of the co-op, perusing grocery store circulars, and reading couponing blogs (yes, really), some days just call for a little bit of a splurge in the food department.  And while I enjoy eating out at nice restaurants as much as anyone, sometimes it's more fun to stay in, light some candles, pour some wine, and cook up a delicious dinner with your beloved.

I can get a little mushy here.  It's almost Valentine's Day, after all.

Anyway, one of my favorite little splurges is shrimp.  Shrimp was my favorite seafood even before my husband helped me to discover that not all fish is gross, and it probably still is at the top of my list.  Sadly, the frozen bags carried by Walmart do not even begin to compare with the beautiful specimens on which we feasted while on vicarage in Texas.  There are benefits to living near the ocean, y'all.  But I love shrimp too much to give it up altogether.  I suppose you can still get quality shrimp from a good meat market, but I'm still too cheap for that.  In a dish like shrimp scampi, you can't really go wrong anyway, even if you have to settle for farm-raised white shrimp.

This is my in-laws' recipe.  They traditionally serve scampi with steak for "family Christmas," before real Christmas when they eat chili and oyster stew.  (You can probably guess which meal is my favorite.)  I like to make it for Valentine's Day, birthdays, National Shrimp Scampi Day (April 29), National Shrimp Day (May 10), National Garlic Day (April 19), National Seafood Month (October), and... um... any other fake holidays that have anything to do with shrimpy deliciousness.  If you don't have a source for good fresh shrimp, I think Aldi has the best prices on frozen raw shrimp (usually under $5 per pound).  Target frequently has sales as well, and I can sometimes use an in-store coupon to get peeled shrimp for under $5 there.

You'll want to eat the scampi right after preparing it, so it's nice and hot.  Serve it with a salad or something that can be prepared ahead of time.  And while you're in the splurging mood, finish off your romantic dinner with a delicious homemade mudslide.  Mmmmm.

Shrimp Scampi
Serves 2-3
Time:  15 minutes, plus 2 hours to marinate (plus 15-30 minutes for cleaning shrimp)

3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. green onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 lb. raw large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and rinsed
hot cooked rice (I use about 1/2 cup uncooked rice per person)

Combine first seven ingredients; pour over shrimp.  Cover; marinate in refrigerator for about 2 hours.  Lay shrimp in single layer on broiler pan.  Broil about 3 minutes on each side (the second side may only take 1-2 minutes).  Transfer to serving dish (don't forget to scrape all the herbs and oil from the pan over the shrimp).  Serve over rice.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Asian Chicken Salad

I have been on a huge Asian cooking kick lately.  It all started when my husband and his friends discovered Mahnin Asian Restaurant on Calhoun--a little hole-in-the-wall Thai/Burmese place featuring all sorts of delicious and authentic (and cheap!) dishes.  Right across the street is an Asian market called, oddly enough, Asian Market.  (It's right on the corner of Calhoun and Pontiac, across from Finders Keepers.)  Stepping inside that place is like entering another world.  You can buy anything from fresh Thai basil and lemongrass to shrimp the size of lobsters.  It takes five minutes to pick one bottle of fish sauce out of the zillion they carry.  You have to step around fifty-pound bags of rice and piles of cooking equipment and Asian candy to get anywhere.  The air is full of unusual incense.  English is definitely not the most prevalent language.

I was hooked.  It's probably the biggest Asian market in that area (there are at least six or seven others within a mile down Calhoun), with a huge selection and very reasonable prices (at least half what you would pay at Meijer or Kroger).  If you're at all interested in Asian cooking, or even if you need to restock your soy sauce supply, I would definitely recommend checking it out.  And then stop into Mahnin for a glorious plate of Pad Thai or Pad Kra Pao (my husband's favorite).

So far most of the Asian recipes I've been trying at home have called for lots of unusual ingredients--items that you could never find at the co-op.  This salad is less authentic, but it still has a fresh, Asian-inspired flavor, and you can customize it to fit whatever you have on hand.  You can certainly substitute a ready-made Asian vinaigrette for the dressing, but I had all the ingredients on hand to make this one and I liked the end result.  I think the most essential ingredient in the dressing is sesame oil; it's $1.99 for a 7 oz. bottle at the Asian markets (more like $6 at Kroger).

I haven't included amounts for any of the salad ingredients--just prepare as much as you need.  I served everything in separate dishes, so everyone could build their own salad as desired.

Asian Chicken Salad
Time:  15-30 minutes

Vinaigrette (makes about 1/2 cup)
3 T. unseasoned rice or wine vinegar
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. honey (brown sugar would also work)
2 T. vegetable oil
1 T. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. fresh grated ginger (optional)

Thoroughly whisk together all ingredients.

Romaine lettuce or spinach, torn into bite-size pieces
Cooked chicken, cooled and cut into strips (I used the Brakebush grilled chicken breasts; breaded chicken tenders might be good too)
Canned mandarin orange slices, drained
Carrots, grated or cut into matchsticks
Green onions, thinly sliced
Bean sprouts, rinsed well (optional--I had some on hand I needed to use up)
Chow mein noodles

Be creative!  Other ingredient options could include thinly sliced red onion, canned water chestnuts, shredded napa cabbage (in place of lettuce/spinach), sliced almonds, halved cherry tomatoes, or sliced mushrooms.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baked Breaded Pork Chops

Remember when I nearly killed my poor little pork chops with an overzealous broiler?  Nope.  Neither do I.  The tragic memory will probably resurface some day in a dream brought on by too much late-night snacking, but for now I've blocked out the memories of charred meat in favor of beautiful golden pineapple and mouth-watering tropical sauce. 

Oh, and a couple days later I actually did make some pork chops that turned out like they were supposed to.  They're simple, basically foolproof, and would taste great with pretty much anything on the side.  The recipe comes from The Best 30-Minute Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen.  (I foresee more than one blog post inspired by this cookbook!)

I made a couple small changes to the original recipe.  First, I used saltine crackers in place of Melba toast.  I'm sure the Melba toast would taste even better, but I didn't want to go out and buy any, and the saltines ended up tasting fine.  Second, the recipe called for boneless, center-cut pork chops (1 inch thick), but I used the bone-in pork chops from the co-op instead.  Since they're huge, I cut each one in half (you should get six servings out of each package).

P.S.  You can get the recipe for the delicious salad I made as a side here; unfortunately, it uses too many unusual ingredients to deserve a whole post.  I substituted regular shredded mozzarella for the smoked mozzarella; otherwise I made the recipe as written.  Be forewarned that it makes a huge batch; you might want to make a half recipe unless you're cooking for the whole neighborhood.

Baked Breaded Pork Chops
Serves 4
Time:  30-35 minutes

5 ounces crushed saltine crackers (about 1 1/4 sleeves)
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. sugar
6 T. mayonnaise, divided
4 pork chops (see note above)

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Mix crackers, 1/2 tsp. salt, and next 5 ingredients (through sugar) in shallow dish.  Add 2 T. mayonnaise and work evenly into crumbs.

Pat chops dry with paper towels; trim off excess fat and season with salt and pepper.  Cover chops completely with remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used my fingers to work it in a little), then cover thoroughly with cracker mixture (including sides).  Press on crumbs to make sure they adhere.  Transfer breaded chops to a wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet (this keeps them from getting soggy and/or burned on the bottom).

Bake until coating is golden brown and centers of chops register 140 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest until centers of chops reach 150 degrees before serving, 5 to 10 minutes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pork Chops with Pineapple

Yes, I know this is an old post, but I cooked these again this week and this time took a picture!  My favorite cookbooks are ones that have a picture to match every single recipe, and I don't think blogs are really any different.

I should also note that the creative use of cropping in this photo is, in fact, my pathetic attempt to hide some pretty disturbing third-degree burns suffered by my poor little pork chop.  I'm still trying to figure out how to cook pork.  Give me a break.

This is probably my favorite pork chop recipe, because 1. it's perfect for grilling in the summer and still great for broiling in the winter; 2. it tastes Asian and tropical at the same time, but isn't supposed to be either; 3. it reminds me of when my mom used to make it for us as kids; and 4. (best of all) it uses almost all co-op ingredients!  I usually broil the meat, but you can grill it too.  If you can't find sliced pineapple, the canned chunks are okay, but you might want to put them on skewers (especially for grilling).

Pork Chops with Pineapple
Serves 4-6
Begin 3-1/2 hours in advance (or night before)

1/2 cup Italian dressing
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 T. soy sauce
4-6 pork chops (about 2 lbs.)
1 can sliced pineapple
hot cooked rice

In a large bowl, combine first four ingredients.  Add chops; turn to coat.  Cover; marinate in refrigerator, turning occasionally, 3 hours or overnight.  Remove chops; bring marinade to a boil.  Grill or broil chops, basting with marinade, until juices run clear (cut into thickest part of meat).  Meanwhile, grill or broil pineapple brushed with marinade until golden.  Bring remaining marinade to a boil; serve as sauce over chops and hot rice.